Editor’s note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Raiders matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m., at O.co Coliseum.
49ers RDE Justin Smith vs. Raiders LT Donald Penn
Tale of the tape
Smith (94): 6 foot 4, 285 pounds, 14th season, Missouri
Penn (72): 6 foot 4, 340 pounds, ninth season, Utah State
Smith, who struggled with injuries the past two seasons, is as healthy as he’s been in a long time. He has returned to the form he showed through most of his career. Smith is tied for the 49ers lead with five sacks. He is also his usual force in the run game.
Penn is enjoying a strong bounce-back season after surrendering 12 sacks last season and losing his job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he played his first eight NFL seasons. Penn rates as the No. 9 tackle in the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Smith said his matchup against Penn is more than enough to get his attention against the one-win Raiders.
“I know I’m going against Donald Penn, and he’s a heck of a football player,” Smith said. “Everybody else can take them lightly, but the players in the locker room know what we’re up against.”
Smith plays such an important role for the 49ers. With Aldon Smith back on the field, Justin Smith is able to run stunts in which he occupies offensive linemen to allow his teammate to get a free run at quarterbacks. And Justin Smith is also a key component in taking on offensive linemen to allow middle linebacker Chris Borland to remain unblocked and rack up tackles.